Electric Reliability Coordinating Council
Jeff Holmstead, perhaps the nation's prime example of a revolving door lobbyist, was dismissed by a federal judge as an expert witness in a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency against Ameren Missouri, a coal burning utility.
In an ongoing case, the EPA has charged Ameren with violating the Clean Air Act by not installing appropriate pollution controls at one of its coal plants. The Sierra Club has since sued Ameren, "alleging 7,880 air quality violations at three coal-burning power plants since 2009," according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Judge Rodney Sippel granted U.S. Justice Department's request to remove Holmstead as a witness, confirming that the lobbyist's history at U.S. EPA posed "multiple conflicts of interest." Here's the judge's motion to dismiss Jeffrey Holmstead, citing Holmstead's use of his EPA experience to undermine EPA's pollution enforcement actions (emphases added):
"Mr. Holmstead’s legal opinions are irrelevant, speculative, and inadmissible." [...] "By his own description, Mr. Holmstead’s testimony relies on his recollection of EPA “internal meetings” that he says are relevant to the issues to be tried in this action. Such internal communications are privileged and confidential and Mr. Holmstead may not rely on his recollection of them to testify against EPA. Moreover, Mr. Holmstead received other privileged information concerning the issues about which he now seeks to testify on behalf of Ameren, and participated in power-plants enforcement cases related to this one while at EPA. Before he left EPA, he even personally provided a declaration for EPA that is at issue in this and other related power-plants enforcement cases asserting privilege claims on behalf of EPA over documents that are relevant to the opinions he now seeks to offer. Yet he now seeks to change sides and testify against EPA. Moreover, he was assisted in the preparation of his report by another former EPA attorney who was involved in the early stages of the investigation that ultimately led to the filing of this case. For the reasons discussed in the accompanying Memorandum, Mr. Holmstead should not be allowed to testify in this matter due to his multiple conflicts of interest.
This is a notable blow to Mr. Holmstead's credibility, who touts his time at EPA to obscure his lobbying to protect polluters from public accountability. An anonymous source "familiar" with this case, likely one of Holmstead's colleagues at Bracewell & Guiliani, has been attempting to spin this embarrassing dismissal to reporters at Bloomberg and E&E Publishing. Ameren claims the judge has no proof that Holmstead would use privileged information, ignoring the judge's reference that Holmstead himself said he would use information from "internal meetings" during his time at EPA.
Jeffrey R. Holmstead, a partner at Bracewell & Guiliani who represents coal mining and utility clients like Arch Coal, Duke Energy and Southern Company, spent four years as EPA's assistant administrator for Air and Radiation under President George W. Bush. His career is a dirty legacy of work against the public interest.
Holmstead's tenure at EPA was controversial all the way from his appointment, protested by U.S. Senators for his previous lobbying for coal companies, until his departure. He was caught censoring science within his office and single-handedly derailed a mercury pollution regulation that would have prevented thousands of premature deaths every year. Holmstead's interference blocked mercury pollution controls at U.S. coal plants for eight full years, as Greenpeace has documented, and confronted Holmstead directly for explanation.
While Ameren from his former government employer, Jeff Holmstead has been working to undermine the nation's first ever attempt to limit carbon pollution from U.S. power plants, misleading the public with fears that these rules will increase their utility bills. Holmstead has been repeatedly fact-checked on his conflation of electricity rates with people's bills, ignoring how energy efficiency measures are expected to lower bills over the long term, and also ignoring the immense costs of coal pollution to the public. Holmstead's office runs a front group called the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council (ERCC) to advocate for these polluters against climate and clean air rules, and representing ERCC, he has personally accompanied an Arch Coal lobbyist to the White House to undermine climate regulations.
Again, Greenpeace has directly sought answers from Mr. Holmstead on why he has dedicated his life to protecting companies that not only undermine science, but quite literally kill people as a regular part of their business operations:
It's nice to see a judge finally toss the fox out of the hen house. Jeff Holmstead says what he's paid to, and his clients make that money by polluting for free.
Today at a well-attended energy forum hosted by Politico, I shed some light on the role of coal lobbyist Jeffrey Holmstead in blocking pollution reductions for his coal utility and mining clients after he said we can't "regulate our way to clean energy." Here's the video:
UPDATE 11/16: Holmstead was later confronted on camera by Gabe Elsner of the Checks and Balances Project after the disruption at the Politico forum. Watch Holmstead re-write the history of his attacks on mercury pollution laws:
As I waited inside for Mr. Holmstead to step on stage, members of Greenpeace's Climate Crime Unit stood outside handing out WANTED posters of both Holmstead and chief oil lobbyist Jack Gerard of the American Petroleum Institute, who was also present.
Jeff Holmstead, who is often quoted in newspapers as a former Air and Radiation Administrator for the George W. Bush Environmental Protection Agency or a "partner" (read: lobbyist) at Bracewell & Giuliani's corporate law firm here in DC, is rarely credited as an influence peddler for some of the most notorious polluters in the country.
Polluters like Duke Energy, Southern Company, and Arch coal are paying Holmstead's bills. These laggard coal-reliant companies are responsible for ecologically destructive coal mining and the carbon dioxide emissions that drive global climate change, not to mention a litany of dangerous pollutants.
Jeff Holmstead's job as their lobbyist is to delay any clean air rules, clean water rules or climate change laws that threaten the billions in profit these companies make by getting to pollute for free. Since he started officially working for them, his firm has been paid over $13.7 million dollars for the dirty work of Holmstead and his partners at Bracewell & Giuliani. He is the perfect example of the political revolving door: he was a coal lobbyist who was placed at the head of our government's clean air department before jumping back on the payroll of coal companies to dismantle the rules he was supposed to uphold. Here are some of
Holmstead's greatest polluter hits:
- Eight years of delay for mercury pollution controls at US power plants. As part of the George W. Bush EPA, Holmstead swapped out a technology-based solution to mercury emissions from coal plants with a rule that was later declared illegal by a US District Court. This bait-and-switch happened in December, 2003; it took the US EPA until Dec. 2011 to put the effective mercury rule back in place. EPA currently estimates that up to 11,000 people's lives could be saved each year by controlling mercury pollution--see EPA Factsheet.
- Led the Bush administration's "Clear Skies Initiative," a deceptively-titled name for a series of proposed air pollution laws that actually allowed for more coal pollution.
- Attacks on greenhouse gas regulations through the Clean Air Act: Holmstead was the infamous co-author behind the scenes of Senator Lisa Murkowski's "Dirty Air Act" in 2010.
- Ongoing attacks on pollution controls through ERCC front group: the "Electric Reliability Coordinating Council" is a coal industry front group run out of Holmstead's office. They have worked to block any regulation of poisonous coal ash, greenhouse gas emissions from coal and the mercury pollution controls that Holmstead already delayed for eight years.
- Work for a Koch front group that denied the existence of acid rain: "Citizens for the Environment" was a spinoff of the Koch-founded Citizens for a Sound Economy, which eventually became David Koch's Americans for Prosperity. Citizens for the Environment had no actual citizen membership, according to the New Yorker.
FOR MORE: See Jeff Holmstead's PolluterWatch profile.
“Mr. Holmstead, Southern Company and Duke Energy pay you to block those regulations. They pay you to block climate legislation. They don’t want clean energy. You need to be reported as the coal lobbyist that you are. When you were in the George W. Bush EPA you blocked mercury controls on power plants for eight years. Eight years—do you know how many thousands of people may have died as a result of that decision, Mr. Holmstead? You need to be held accountable for that. You need to be held accountable as a lobbyist for coal interests.” (click to return to top)
Duh. That's probably what you thought to yourself when you read my headline.
Yes, as American families on the east coast are reeling from an unprecedented weather disaster, Southern Company CEO Thomas Fanning told CNBC:
“I don’t think the data supports that the storms are more frequent or unusual than they have been in the past. But the point is right now that we are not dedicated to getting into an ancillary argument.” (h/t The Hill)
Fanning probably considers the much-needed conversations considering Hurricane Sandy and climate change as "ancillary" because Southern Company plays a very central and very inconvenient role in creating global warming. Apparently, Fanning's home and livelihood weren't damaged by superstorm Sandy, although his birthplace of Morristown, NJ was hit by the storm. Lucky him--out of sight, out of mind! Apparently there's no need to talk about the deeper issue of global warming. (Greenpeace photos of damage from Sandy).
See, not only is Southern Co one of the nation's largest coal-burning utilities, but it creates more carbon pollution than any other utility in the country and ranks #7 in global power company carbon emissions. Southern Co is responsible for dumping over 145 million tons of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere each year, making it a key culprit in the global climate crisis.
In turn, global warming creates conditions that can make cyclones like Hurricane Sandy more intense than they naturally would be, not to mention increasing the likelihood of other extreme weather events like droughts, floods, and heavy storms. If you live in the U.S., you know this year was particularly suspicious in terms of climate-related disasters.
Suspicious unless you have your head in the sand, as Mr. Fanning appears to. What's worse is how much Thomas Fanning's company has paid money to stuff other people's heads in the sand with them.
While aggravating global warming through its immense greenhouse gas emissions, Southern Company has also been a key manipulator in our national dialog over global climate change:
- Funding junk science: Southern Company gave Willie Soon $230,000 from 2006-2009 for two distinct junk studies disguised as scientific research in order to confuse politicians into ignoring policy solutions to climate change. Willie Soon is a career climate science denier whose other "research" sponsors have included ExxonMobil, the Charles G Koch Foundation and the American Petroleum Institute.
- Funding shill groups: Southern Co. is a member of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a front group run by coal utility lobbyists at the law firm Bracewell & Giuliani. Through ERCC lobbyists Scott Segal and Jeff Holmstead, Southern Co and other dirty utilities bitterly opposes any requirements for coal companies to reduce their pollution or greenhouse gases causing global warming. Southern Co is also a member of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), another front group opposing strong environmental standards for coal pollution. You may be familiar with ACCCE for its multimillion dollar ad buys around the election, or for its involvement in a scandal where forged letters were sent to Congress to oppose climate legislation in 2009.
Buying politics: Since 2008, Southern Co. has spent over $61 million lobbying our federal government, much of which was to block environmental laws and legislation addressing climate change. Southern Co. has spent over $10 million each year on federal lobbying since 2004. To support its lobbying expenditures, Southern Co. has also sent over $1.6 million to federal politicians and registered political groups since the 2008 election cycle.
- In the 2012 presidential election, Southern Co. has sent $46,650 to Republican candidate Mitt Romney and $8,580 to President Barack Obama (OpenSecrets).
Unfortunately for the climate and those who are now suffering from weather disasters, Southern Company is just one of many companies funding our politicians and then paying lobbyists, setting up front groups and financing hack scientists to push politicians even farther into an anti-science fantasy-land. Along with Southern are other key bad actors like Duke Energy, Peabody, ExxonMobil, Chesapeake Energy, Koch Industries and other fossil fuel interests that also want to stomp any mention of global warming out of politics, protecting billions in profit and limiting their liability over pollution problems.
Understanding how these behemoths operate and coordinate makes it less surprising, though no less offensive, that we didn't hear about climate change in the first presidential debate series in over 20 years.
It doesn't matter if global warming is an "ancillary" issue to Southern Company after disasters like Hurricane Sandy, or if the presidential contenders won't be honest with Americans about the problem. Our changed climate is only going to keep changing.
Lobbyists for the "Electric Reliability Coordinating Council" attack clean air rules on behalf of Arch Coal
The Environmental Protection Agency is holding a public hearing today in Washington DC on the first-ever rules to limit carbon pollution from new power plants. It's a popular rule, and EPA has already heard a lot about it: over a million comments supporting the rule were delivered to EPA last week.
But this is DC, so not everyone is thrilled. Scott Segal, a lobbyist at Bracewell & Giuliani, will be testifying on behalf of coal interests at the EPA hearing. When lobbying against clean air rules like the carbon pollution standard or mercury air toxics standard, Segal likes to use the title of director of the "Electric Reliability Coordinating Council" (ERCC); I suppose it sounds better than coal lobbyist. But what exactly is the ERCC? When he wrote a letter requesting a meeting about the carbon pollution rule with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Segal claimed that "ERCC is a group of power-generating companies." But OMB meeting records reveal that the only lobbyist that joined ERCC for that meeting was Arch Coal's Vice President of Government Affairs, Tom Altmeyer.
Arch Coal, of course, is not a power-generating company, but rather the second largest coal mining company in the US, and one increasingly focused on exporting US coal to foreign markets. Burning coal is a major source of carbon pollution, so it's no surprise that Arch is lobbying against rules that will help move us away from their dangerous product. But what about utility companies like Duke Energy, a known member company of ERCC? Does it secretly support ERCC's misleading attacks on clean air rules that will protect their ratepayers from mercury and carbon pollution, while encouraging investment in cleaner sources of electricity?
This is not the first time, after all, that ERCC's lobbying appears out of step with its member companies' public positions. Last year Greenpeace sent Duke CEO Jim Rogers a letter asking if Duke was a member of ERCC, and whether the company supported the ERCC's efforts to delay and weaken the mercury rule. In response, a spokesman for the company told the Charlotte Business Journal that Duke is a member of ERCC, “But, as with many organizations we are affiliated with, we don’t agree with them on every issue.”
Segal has avoided revealing the full list of ERCC member companies. When challenged in a debate by John Walke of NRDC to disclose ERCC's full list of member companies, Segal declined after naming just four companies: Southern Company, Duke Energy, Progress Energy, and EFH (Energy Future Holdings, which owns Luminant) - but made no mention of Arch Coal. Indeed, Segal and other lobbyists at Bracewell & Giuliani like Jeff Holmstead have used ERCC for more than a decade to obscure which coal mining companies and utilities are behind their efforts to weaken and delay clean air rules.
A New York Times article about the creation of ERCC in 2001 describes it as "a consortium of power companies that is so new that its spokesman could not name the 8 to 10 companies he said have joined so far." Right.. well, now that it has been over a decade, we'll see if Segal is able to recall - and willing to reveal - which companies are behind his efforts to weaken and delay clean air protections that will save thousands of American lives. In the meantime, public officials and reporters would be wise to question whose interests Scott Segal and Jeff Holmstead represent.
After years of delay, the Environmental Protection Agency is finally issuing safeguards that will protect Americans by reducing the amount of mercury pollution and other poisons emitted by coal plants around the country. It's good news for mothers, children, communities near dirty coal plants, people who eat fish - pretty much everyone, actually, so it's no surprise that Americans overwhelmingly support rules to reduce mercury pollution from power plants. So who isn't pleased? Well, lobbyists for the dirtiest utilities like Southern Company seem pretty down about it - Scott Segal, for example, called the upcoming rule "unfortunate."
You might remember Scott Segal from his appearance on The Daily Show, in a bit about how lobbyists kill legislation. Mr. Segal works for K Street lobby firm Bracewell & Giuliani, where he represents clients like Southern Company, Arch Coal, and Duke Energy, along with his colleague Jeffrey Holmstead. (Holmstead has worked for years against meaningful mercury protections, as a top George W. Bush EPA official and as an industry lobbyist - read our Jeff Holmstead profile and our new report: Jeffrey Holmstead: the Coal Industry's Mercury Lobbyist for much more). They’ve got the tough job of trying to weaken and delay these popular, life-saving rules so their clients can keep dumping mercury into our air and water without restriction.
To help hide this, Mr. Segal often represents himself as the director of a coal industry front group called the "Electric Reliability Coordinating Council." For example, a few weeks ago Mr. Segal, writing as the director of ERCC, sent a letter requesting a meeting with the Office of Management and Budget as it was analyzing the Mercury Rule. And when Mr. Segal testified before Congress against the Mercury Rule in April 2011, he also used his preferred title of director of ERCC, instead of, say, a lobbyist for Southern Company.
But what exactly is this "Electric Reliability Coordinating Council" that has spent much of the last year trying to weaken and delay these badly needed mercury safeguards? ERCC's website describes the group as "a broad-based coalition of energy companies committed to the continued viability of diverse, affordable and reliable electric power supply in the United States." But nowhere does its website list the member companies in ERCC's supposedly "broad-based coalition." When challenged in a debate on the Mercury Rule by John Walke of NRDC to disclose ERCC's full list of member companies, Mr. Segal declined after naming just four companies: Southern Company, Duke Energy, Progress Energy, and EFH (Energy Future Holdings, which owns Luminant).
It's no surprise for Southern Company and EFH - those companies have openly attacked the Mercury Rule, and were the second and third worst mercury polluters in 2010, after American Electric Power. But what about Duke Energy? Has it been using this front group to lobby against the Mercury Rule? After we sent Duke CEO Jim Rogers a letter asking if Duke was a member of ERCC, and whether the company supported the ERCC's efforts to delay and weaken the Mercury Rule, a spokesman for the company told the Charlotte Business Journal that Duke is a member of ERCC, “But, as with many organizations we are affiliated with, we don’t agree with them on every issue.”
So are ERCC's attacks on the Mercury Rule too extreme even for its coal industry member companies? Or is Duke Energy backing those attacks after all, and misleading the public about what exactly it has been doing with the $1.6 million it spent on lobbying in just the last three month period? Well as it turns out, Mr. Segal got that meeting he requested with the Office of Management and Budget. According to White House records, he was there with Jeffrey Holmstead, three executives from Southern Company - and Duke Energy's Vice President for Federal Affairs. It seems like Duke Energy has some explaining to do.
Updated Nov. 2012
Coal is dirty. Coal companies know this—utilities that burn the fossil fuel are willing to spend millions of dollars each year to undermine laws that cut back on coal pollution and protect public health. Vital in this dirty business are the lobbyists who are willing to ignore the massive external costs of coal and make a career peddling the coal industry’s continued grip on U.S. electricity production. In the recent history of the coal lobby, no single person has bought his clients as much delay on critical pollution controls, such as reducing mercury emissions, as Jeffrey R. Holmstead.
Currently working out of the Washington, DC headquarters of the lobbying firm Bracewell & Giuliani, Jeff Holmstead has jumped in and out of government positions in a continuous effort to block pollution controls at coal-fired power plants. Holmstead’s coal clients have doled out over $10.7 million dollars (UPDATE Nov. 2012: $13.7 million) to his firm since he joined in 2007, and a primary undertaking of Holmstead’s has been to block and weaken laws that cut back on mercury pollution from power plants. Coal and oil-burning power plants, which release tons of mercury pollution each year [PDF] in the U.S., have avoided any federal mercury protections, despite the Clean Air Act 1990 amendments. This is where Holmstead’s dirty legacy begins.
Jeffrey Holmstead’s formative experience manipulating clean air laws began in 1989 as associate counsel to President George H. W. Bush, where he was involved in “the key steps taken to implement” the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments, or as Clean Air Watch’s Frank O’Donnell puts it, he “tried to ‘interpret’ the rules in ways more favorable to industry.” In spite of Holmstead’s role, changes to the Clean Air Act through the 1990 amendments paved the way for requiring mercury controls at power plants and other facilities, but extensive scientific research and coal filibustering stalled EPA’s official endorsement of a strong utility mercury rule for a decade. By December, 2000, EPA finally ruled that it is “appropriate and necessary” to regulate mercury from power plants by installing high-standard technology across the board with a utility maximum achievable control technology rule (MACT) approach (What’s the Utility MACT?).
Jeff Holmstead was one of the coal lobby’s voices during the ten year delay leading to EPA’s decision to regulate mercury with a Utility MACT rule. After leaving the Bush Sr. administration in 1993, Holmstead joined Latham & Watkins, a beltway lobby firm. His clients at the time included two utility front groups [PDF]. One of Holmstead’s lobby clients, the Alliance for Constructive Air Policy [PDF] included large coal utilities [PDF] like American Electric Power, Cinergy, Wisconsin Electric and subsidiaries of Dynergy and Dominion. Holmstead remained a lobbyist at Latham & Watkins until 2001.
Fox in the Hen House
Jeffrey Holmstead put aside his official lobbying job for five years in order to take the opportunity of a lifetime for any polluter apologist. A top position within the George W. Bush administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gave Holmstead unprecedented power to reward the industry clients he had been representing. Holmstead’s controversial appointment was blocked by Senators until staff from the Environment and Public Works Committee could review documents to investigate conflict of interest concerns. As a former industry lobbyist, his pending EPA appointment threatened to disrupt the development of Clean Air rules, and undermine ongoing efforts begun under the Clinton EPA to hold polluters accountable for their violations of the Clean Air Act. Sure enough, he dismantled those clean air rules, told Congress it wouldn’t affect the lawsuits despite internal warnings, and watched EPA turn its back on 70 suspected violation cases. One of Holmstead’s priority targets for evisceration was the mercury rule.
After years of scientific review, effective and available technology to reduce mercury pollution from power plants, and success in reducing mercury pollution through “maximum achievable control technology” (MACT) rules in other industries [PDF], Holmstead took steps to undo this progress. An EPA-sponsored Utility MACT Working Group composed of 29 experts from the utility industry, state and local air quality offices and environmental groups were confident that a Utility MACT rule, mandated under the Clean Air Act due to mercury’s toxicity, would be EPA’s approach to control mercury emissions from power plants. Instead, Holmstead and his adviser Bill Wehrum stopped the Utility MACT rule in its tracks, disbanding the working group suddenly in April, 2003. The Utility MACT Working Group was never reconvened under the Bush EPA. A few months after the working group was disbanded, the New York Times reported that EPA employees in Holmstead’s department were told “either not to analyze or not to release information about mercury, carbon dioxide and other air pollutants,” in order to be consistent with the Bush Administration’s unscientific political positions.
In 2004, Holmstead began shifting away from the legally-mandated Utility MACT rule by proposing less effective options for reducing mercury pollution at U.S. power plants. Drafting the new rules, Holmstead was caught borrowing language provided by his former lobbying firm employer, Latham & Watkins. Holmstead’s clients at Latham included two coal utility front groups, so he recognized that it didn’t look good when “at least a dozen paragraphs were lifted, sometimes verbatim, from the industry suggestions” and pasted into his regulatory proposals. A few months later, the New York Times uncovered disturbing details of censoring mercury science in Holmstead’s office: “The staff members deleted or modified information on mercury that employees of the [EPA] say was drawn largely from a 2000 report by the National Academy of Sciences that Congress had commissioned to settle the scientific debate about the risks of mercury.” Citing specific quotes of altered language, Jennifer Lee reported, “In some cases, White House staff members suggested phrasing that minimized the links between power plants and elevated levels of mercury in fish, the primary source from which Americans accumulate mercury in their bodies, in a form known as methlymercury.”
Holmstead Abandons the Utility MACT
The utility mercury rule Holmstead favored and admitted to initiating was a less stringent (in fact, illegal) cap and trade method under a different section of the Clean Air Act (subsection 111 instead of 112), which meant downgrading EPA’s opinion of mercury’s danger as a toxin. The cap and trade rule mirrored the Bush Administration’s absurdly-titled “Clear Skies Initiative” in Congress, a legislative assault on clean air laws designed under Holmstead’s lead. Clear Skies was a priority of the Bush Administration, but was picked apart by environmental groups and the National Academy of Sciences for weakening Clean Air Act pollution standards. EPA employees claimed even Holmstead acknowledged the Clear Skies Initiative was inferior compared to stronger legislation in the Senate, wondering out loud, “How do we justify Clear Skies if this gets out?”
Mercury regulation under the Clear Skies Initiative would have been less effective than the technology-based Utility MACT because cap and trade is designed to bring down geographically widespread emissions of a substance. While this approach can be effective for emissions that don’t have a dangerous local impact (such as carbon dioxide), mercury is known to accumulate locally. Under a cap and trade rule, dirtier power plants would buy credits to release more mercury from plants with lower emissions, and communities around the dirtier facilities could face greater health risks. Concern over these mercury “hot spots” was dismissed by Holmstead, but higher mercury concentrations were later confirmed in a study on the U.S. Atlantic Coast. Additionally, the Associated Press reported that EPA knew of the existence of hot spots in a censored internal report.
Holmstead’s reputation for repeatedly censoring inconvenient scientific data and watering down regulatory language was again demonstrated in 2005 by multiple offenses. In March 2005, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) criticized EPA’s lack of transparency in creating a new mercury rule, saying Holmstead’s cap and trade method should have been considered a “last-resort option.” The GAO statements followed an EPA Inspector general report concluding that “agency scientists had been pressured to back the approach preferred by industry” in re-creating mercury regulations.
A month later, Holmstead’s office was caught smothering a crucial report commissioned for EPA by the Harvard Center for Risk Assessment as a cost benefit analysis of mercury regulation. The Associated Press revealed how the agency claimed a national benefit of $50 million when the smothered report actually indicated benefits of up to five billion dollars nationwide for larger cuts in emissions, as the Utility MACT rule was poised to do before Holmstead intervened. The Harvard report sat on EPA’s shelf for over a year before AP broke the story.
Ignorance is Bliss
The overwhelming evidence in favor of a strong Utility MACT mercury rule led the Clinton administration EPA to conclude that a cap and trade alternative was not legally supportable. Comparing the favorable and legally-required Utility MACT mercury controls with Holmstead’s cap and trade proposal, the Washington Post’s Eric Pianin explained, “Under the administration’s approach, utilities would have until 2018 to cut [mercury, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide] emissions by 70 percent. By comparison, the EPA working group considered various approaches that would cut mercury pollution by 35 percent to 93 percent within three to four years.” Instead of reducing utility mercury pollution to as low as 5 tons per year in 2008, Holmstead’s plan would only drop emissions to 15 tons annually by 2018. In other words, Holmstead pushed for a ten year delay that ultimately allowed three times the mercury pollution than the Utility MACT he blocked [Heinzerling & Steinzor, p.11].
Jeffrey Holmstead shrugged off the criticism and pushed ahead with his efforts to dismantle effective mercury controls. Holmstead’s office had dragged its feet by vaguely studying both the MACT and cap and trade methods. Lisa Heinzerling explained at the time how EPA “ties itself in knots trying to explain how the law allows it to promulgate either of these diametrically opposed options” [Heinzerling & Steinzor, p.9]. Despite a request from 45 Senators to use the appropriate Utility MACT rule, Holmstead later dropped the method altogether, overstepping EPA Administrator Michael Leavitt. EPA officially issued Holmstead’s mercury rule on March 15, 2005.
At this point, certain states and environmental groups sued EPA to force a return to the legally mandated Utility MACT rule. This was achieved three years later in a 2008 DC Circuit Court ruling supporting the Clinton EPA’s December, 2000 decision to reduce mercury air pollution from coal and oil utilities using a MACT rule. The court’s scathing conclusion cited Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, stating [PDF] that the Bush EPA’s “explanation deploys the logic of the Queen of Hearts, substituting EPA’s desires for the plain text of section 112(c)(9),” the section of the Clean Air Act requiring MACT controls for power plant mercury emissions.
The original Utility MACT rule that Holmstead replaced should have been fully implemented by 2008. As of 2011, EPA expects full implementation by 2016.
Accounting for all the delay, Holmstead’s interference has blocked serious reductions in power plant mercury pollution for eight years, assuming no further delays by the coal industry. Unfortunately, that may not be a safe assumption.
Back in King Coal’s Court
Jeffrey Holmstead spent over four years as EPA’s assistant administrator of Air and Radiation, longer than anyone else in that position to date. In late 2006, after taking a year off, Holmstead joined the lobbying firm Bracewell & Giuliani (B&G). B&G has a notably anti-environmental legacy, lobbying for major corporate polluters and defending white-collar criminals in cases of federal enforcement lawsuits. When asked to explain his blatant revolving door career--leaving EPA to lobby for industry clients--Holmstead said, “I, I'm not sure why, uh, people have tried to make something of that. But people have to have jobs. And that's the way it works.”
Since joining Bracewell & Giuliani, Jeff Holmstead has had a total of 16 clients. All but four of those clients were coal utilities, mining companies, or trade associations (and one of those four was CSX, a railroad company that is the largest coal shipper east of the Mississippi). Holmstead’s coal interest clients have paid Bracewell & Giuliani over $13.7 million since he joined the firm. In 2011, only one of Holmstead’s ten clients was not a coal company. With the coal industry’s money, Holmstead and other Bracewell lobbyists fought for the industry’s assumed right to unlimited mercury pollution and resisted other rules to protect Americans from coal industry pollution. A recent MJ Bradley report [PDF] found that eleven of the top fifteen U.S. utility companies have long anticipated recent clean air rules and taken steps to prepare. Two of the four laggard companies were Southern Company and Energy Future Holdings, both current Holmstead clients.
Southern Company made two billion dollars last year in profits alone. Southern and other coal utilities invest millions of dollars into subverting regulations. Assistance from Holmstead and other polluter lobbyists at Bracewell & Giuliani costs Southern $120,000 in annual lobbying fees, part of Southern’s $8 million lobbying budget. In addition, Southern is represented by the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a coal industry front group run out of Bracewell’s office in Washington, DC. At a November, 2011 meeting with the White House Office of Management and Budget, Holmstead was present with Bracewell lobbyist and ERCC director Scott Segal (who requested the meeting), three representatives of Southern Company, and a lobbyist from Duke Energy. Duke and other major coal utility clients work with Holmstead, his firm and ERCC in the same fashion that Southern Company does.
Many of Jeff Holmstead’s current clients were recently named among the top mercury polluters in the coal utility sector, the largest source of mercury pollution in the U.S. Of the 25 companies listed as 2010's biggest mercury polluters (see Environment America report [PDF]), at least 9 are represented by Holmstead. Luminant, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Energy Future Holdings, and Southern Company rank 2nd and 3rd, respectively, releasing over 4,000 pounds of airborn mercury each. Other Holmstead clients on the list are Ameren (#4), GenOn (#7), DTE Energy (#11), Duke Energy (#12), Salt River Project (#20) and Progress Energy (#22). FirstEnergy (ranked #16 in the report), is a suspected member of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, or ERCC -- the coal front group managed by coal lobbyists in Bracewell’s DC lobbying office. ERCC itself is a Holmstead lobbying client. Although ERCC refuses to reveal its member companies, several confirmed or suspected members overlap with several of Holmstead clients: Southern Co., Duke Energy, Progress Energy, Energy Future Holdings, and Salt River Project [Drew & Oppel, Jr.].
Doublespeak and Deception
While working full time for polluters at Bracewell & Giuliani, Jeffrey Holmstead’s statements on mercury’s toxic potency directly contradict some of his statements while at EPA. In office, Holmstead at least acknowledged the danger of mercury from power plants. The Natural Resources Defense Council flagged an unbroken quote from May 2002 Congressional testimony, where Holmstead recognized that “mercury is a potent toxin that causes permanent damage to the brain and nervous system,” that “mercury exposure comes through eating contaminated fish,” and that “power generation is now the largest uncontrolled source of mercury emissions.” In stark contrast, Holmstead claimed in a June, 2011 debate, “It is pretty hard to say that [mercury from coal-fired power plants] is a significant public health issue.” Each year, EPA’s mercury rule is expected to prevent 4,200-11,000 premature deaths, along with thousands of cases of chronic bronchitis, heart attacks, and other health problems [PDF].
It takes a special talent to lobby against public health in favor of corporate profit. Part of Holmstead’s proficiency in peddling coal’s delay and deny strategy is to avoid an honest discussion of the immense impacts the burning coal has on public health and the environment, and instead focus on misleading cost benefit analyses. This dark talent is likely the reason Holmstead was named as one of several George W. Bush administration officials now advising Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign on energy issues. Holmstead also aided Romney during his 2008 campaign.
While the focus of this cautionary tale is how Jeff Holmstead has obstructed effective methods of reducing mercury pollution from coal plants, unlimited mercury pollution is only one dangerous privilege that Holmstead has defended for his coal clients. Holmstead’s full history includes parallel efforts to block or weaken other EPA rules. While at EPA, Holmstead attacked New Source Review rules, which require pollution controls when new industrial facilities are built or old ones are upgraded. And as for reducing industry greenhouse gas emissions that fuel global climate change, EPA air chief Holmstead stated in 2005, “the idea that there would be mandatory, you know, carbon regulation is just something that we don’t support.” In his time as a lobbyist at Bracewell & Giuliani, Holmstead was implicated in a 2010 scandal revealing that he and another former Bush EPA official-turned-lobbyist ghostwrote a legislative amendment for Senator Lisa Murkowski (I-AK) that would have undermined the Clean Air Act’s provision to control climate-altering greenhouse gases from major emitters. Sen. Murkowski has received over $380,000 from coal interests from 1999-2011, with $65,000 from Holmstead coal clients in the specific years he has worked for them. In 2011, Sen. Murkowski wrote letters and threatened legislative action to further delay implementation of EPA’s mercury rule.
At present, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates [PDF] that finally completing and implementing a Utility MACT mercury rule will prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths per year, along with other enormous health benefits, by the time the rule is fully implemented.
Jeff Holmstead’s sabotage of the rulemaking process at EPA has caused eight years of delay, delay where Americans have continued to suffer from the impacts of pollution from coal fired power plants. The implications of the amount of lives that could have been saved in this eight-year timeframe is staggering: tens of thousands of people have likely been unnecessarily killed by coal pollution because of the delay. Instead of being held accountable, Holmstead continues to make a killing as the coal industry’s mercury lobbyist.
*What's the Utility MACT? (back up to report)
The Clinton EPA, recognizing the danger of mercury and certain other hazardous air pollutants, chose the “maximum achievable control technology” (MACT) method for controlling dangerous pollution at power plants. The Utility MACT requires plant-by-plant controls to greatly reduce air emissions of mercury using attainable but top-notch technology. While utilities still haven’t been made to comply with a MACT rule, similar rules for incinerator industries have shown over 95% reductions in mercury pollution [PDF] over a 15-year period. Without any regulation, coal- and oil-burning utilities managed only 10% voluntary reductions of mercury pollution over the same time. Coal and oil burning electric utilities are the top source of manmade mercury pollution in the United States.
Environmental Law Reporter:
Lisa Heinzerling & Rena I. Steinzor, Environmental Law Reporter, News & Analysis, “A Perfect Storm: Mercury and the Bush Administration,” part 1 of 2, April, 2004.
Lisa Heinzerling & Rena I. Steinzor, Environmental Law Reporter, News & Analysis, "A Perfect Storm: Mercury and the Bush Administration, Part II" part 2 of 2, June, 2004.
New York Times:
Neela Banerjee, "Files Detail Debate in E.P.A. on Clean Air," New York Times, March 21, 2002.
Katharine Q. Seelye, "White House Rejected a Stronger E.P.A. Alternative to the President's Clear Skies Plan," New York Times, April 28, 2002.
Jeffrey R. Holmstead, "Emissions Trading," Letter to the Editor, New York Times, June 7, 2002, obtained through ProQuest.
Jennifer 8. Lee, "Committee Approves E.P.A. Nominee, Setting Up Floor Fight," New York Times, October 16, 2003.
Jennifer 8. Lee, “White House Minimized the Risks of Proposed Mercury Rules, Scientists Say,” New York Times, April 7, 2004. (back to text)
Jennifer 8. Lee, "Critics Say E.P.A. Won't Analyze Clean Air Proposals Conflicting with President's Policies," New York Times, July 14, 2003.
Jennifer 8. Lee, "New Policy on Mercury Pollution Was Rejected by Clinton E.P.A." New York Times, December 16, 2003.
Christopher Drew and Richard A. Oppel, Jr., “Air War -- Remaking Energy Policy; How Power Lobby Won Battle Of Pollution Control at E.P.A.” New York Times, March 6, 2004. (back to text)
Michael Janofsky, "Inspector General Says E.P.A. Rule Aids Polluters," New York Times, October 1, 2004.
"Dubious Choices," Editorial, New York Times, April 24, 2006.
Eric Pianin, "EPA Announces 'Cap and Trade' Plan to Cut Mercury Pollution; Agency Bowed to Utility Industry Pressure, Critics Charge," Washington Post, p. A35, December 16, 2003. Obtained through ProQuest.
Guy Gugliotta & Eric Pianin, "EPA Withholds Air Pollution Analysis; Senate Plan Found More Effective, Slightly More Costly than Bush Proposal," Washington Post, p. A03, July 1, 2003. Obtained through ProQuest.
Guy Gugliotta & Eric Pianin, "EPA Issues Rosier 'Clear Skies' Analysis, Based on New Model; Agency Denies Hiding Data on Rival Bill," Washington Post, p. A06, July 2, 2003. Obtained through ProQuest, available on High Beam.
Eric Pianin, "Report Cites 10 States' Mercury Pollution; Envrionmental Advocacy Group Uses EPA Data to Pinpoint 'Hot Spots'," Washington Post, p. A02, December 10, 2003. Obtained through ProQuest, available at Environmental Defense Fund [PDF].
Eric Pianin, "Proposed Mercury Rules Bear Industry Mark; EPA Language Similar to that in Memos from Law Firm Representing Utilities," Washington Post, p. A04, January 31, 2004.
Juliet Williams, "List of states suing federal government over mercury regulations rises to 10," Associated Press, April 12, 2005. Obtained through ProQuest.
John Heilprin, "Internal EPA study finds higher benefits from curbing mercury pollution," Associated Press, April 29, 2005. Obtained through ProQuest, available through Google News.
Frank O'Donnell, Blog for Clean Air, Clean Air Watch. A site search for "Holmstead" reveals numerous accounts over the years.
"Resolved: EPA's Utility MACT is the right tool at the right time," filmed debate, Environmental Law Institute, June 7, 2011.
Meg Kinnard, "EPA's Holmstead: Emissions Trading Program Works," Insider Interview, National Journal, February 5, 2003.